WORKING men and women were the “heartbeat” of Bradford’s Oastler Market and Fountains Cafe, says writer Mick Martin.

Now the memories of people who used the market and its cafe are to be preserved in a play, celebrating their shared stories.

A fund of £24,000 from Historic England’s ‘Everyday Heritage Grants: Celebrating Working Class History’ has been awarded to a project called Fountains of Tales, capturing the history of Oastler Market.

The grant scheme was launched by Historic England this year to support community-led projects and further the nation’s collective understanding of the past. Community and heritage organisations were invited to apply for grants to unlock untold local stories and hidden histories.

Fountains of Tales is working in Oastler Market as its operations wind to a close while the new Darley Street Market develops. History in Action, which brings the past to life through performance, is recording voices and stories of the market, and Fountains Cafe on John Street, to be crafted into a theatre piece which will be performed in the market ahead of its demolition in 2023.

History in Action writer and director Mick Martin says: “For many, it can feel like their own life and part they have played in the town’s history is also razed to the ground and lost, but that is the whole point of this project - to mark and properly celebrate the role ordinary working men and women played in the life of the cafe and the market. They were its heartbeat, and a vitally important part of our story. Maybe it won’t get a blue plaque - but it will be recorded and loved in this project.”

Project director Jude Wright adds: “In late autumn 2023, Oastler Market and thus the iconic Fountains Café will be demolished and lost for all time. It is a unique meeting place and melting pot for Bradford city centre and market life; a place where working class residents and migrants from all over the world have worked, eaten, met and talked. Cafés feed much more than our bellies - they are a fulcrum for everyday life.”

Cllr Alex Ross-Shaw, Portfolio Holder, Regeneration, Planning & Transport for Bradford, says markets “have played such a huge role in Bradford’s history”.

“While we’re excited to continue that journey with Darley Street Market it’s important we capture the stories and history of our current market too. I’m sure Fountains of Tales will do just that.”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, says: “Heritage should be for everyone. The histories of castles and great houses and their inhabitants are well documented, but we know far less about our everyday heritage.

"From council estates, pubs and clubs, to farms, factories and shipyards, these are the places where most people have lived, worked and played for hundreds of years. We want to explore these untold stories and celebrate the people and places at the heart of our history.

“I’m delighted that we are able to provide funding for this project through our Everyday Heritage Grants, which will help to bring our collective and shared history back to life. These grants will enable people to tell their own stories, in their own way, and connect with others in their communities through a shared understanding of their local heritage."

Emma Clayton